2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge, What Shannon Read

When Are You Reading? Challenge: Stillwater

This year, I’m participating in the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam of Taking on a World of Words.

This book is my selection for the years 1800-1899.

Stillwater by Nicole HelgetJust cruising right through this challenge! Apparently, it’s my jam right now. For my second book, I chose Stillwater by Nicole Helget.

The novel is set in the Civil War-era U.S., specifically in the wilds of Minnesota, still considered part of the U.S. western expansion at that point. The story centers on grown-up twins, Angel and Clement Piety, who were orphaned at birth.

It begins with a log jam in the St. Croix River, a murder, and an altercation between the twins. Then, we delve into the backstory of the family and it is not as boring as those words I just typed.

In fact, the writing was quite a palate cleanser after The Shadow King! It’s light in tone, quirky, and straightforward. But still beautiful in parts. One of the beginning chapters has one of the sweetest, most reassuring death scenes I’ve ever read.

The story also features the twins’ parents and their stories, Eliza, a woman who escapes from slavery with her child, and a priest and religious sister (not a nun, she clarifies) who care for the pioneers, orphans, and Native Americans who come to them for assistance.

We also get to know the people who take in the orphaned twins. They are Big Waters, the loving American Indian woman who cares for Clement and considers him hers, and the rich but dysfunctional family who takes in Angel. Both stories are heart-rending and we see the twins grow up as products of their environments, but with the undeniable connection they feel to one another playing the most significant role in their lives.

I don’t want to give away any plot points because I found them a joy to follow and if you read it, you may enjoy discovering these characters and following their lives for yourself.

Two things bothered me about the book. One is not really about it per se and is kind of odd. It’s to do with a blurb on the back. Fellow Minnesota author Peter Geye (who I’d never heard of) says, “Make room, Louise Erdrich, Minnesota has a new resident scribe…” It continues with more praise. But I read that and thought, first of all, Louise Erdrich is an incredibly talented and prolific author. She doesn’t have to make room for anyone, in my opinion. Also, she’s a treasured indigenous voice in the literary landscape, which, historically, has been very white in the U.S. I know I’m nitpicking a blurb here, but coming from a white guy, jauntily telling her to “move over” is tone deaf at best.

I’m sure he had the best of intentions and also wanted to acknowledge the great literary tradition of Minnesota, but I’m here to tell you it. didn’t. work.

Moving on, I also took note of the thoughts of Eliza, an enslaved woman who has taken her son Davis and run away from her owners. In a significant scene, Eliza is thinking about the risks she has taken. She remembers waffling about whether she should attempt to escape at all because, living with the Watsons, her owners, she knew she and her son always had a roof over their heads and three meals a day.

Now, is this a woman genuinely considering the consequences of running away with no family or means of her own? Or, is it a sentiment sneaking into the narrative of a well-intentioned white writer leftover from a time when white people promoted the narrative of the benevolent slaveholder? The slaveholder who cared for their slaves, who provided for them, in other words. I know that it’s natural for Eliza to weigh risks in a desperate situation and, to be fair, Helget doesn’t imply that Eliza was happy to be enslaved. In this story slaveholders are the villains and not the heroes. But I still wondered about it.

I’m always eager to see how white authors handle telling the stories of black or indigenous people. I don’t really feel like they have the right to. But when you’re writing historical fiction, I imagine you just have to handle it in the most sensitive way you can because history is history and it is, of course, important to include these stories.

But it’s risky as a white person’s perspective is naturally from the race of the historical oppressor. Helget is white. Can any other white author accurately imagine the thoughts and feelings of an enslaved black woman? Many authors would say it can be done. I’m always dubious and hyper-critical when they try.

Maybe I’m reaching here and my questions aren’t very clear. If so, I apologize. It’s a hard thing to write about.

On the whole, this novel was extraordinary and I loved the characters, the story, and the writing.

2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge, What Shannon Read

When Are You Reading? Challenge: The Shadow King

This year, I’m participating in the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam of Taking on a World of Words.

This book is my selection for the years 1920-1939.

FYI: There are more spoilers in this review than I might usually include. I found the details so fascinating that it was hard to stay general.


Did you know about Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia?

I think I was vaguely aware of it before coming upon Maaza Mengiste’s novel The Shadow King on the new fiction shelf at the library.

Normally, I refuse to read books about or related to World War II. I spent a good deal of my school years learning about WWII and, because I feel it was pounded into us in public school, I’ve grown weary of reading about it over the years.

I realize I’m missing out on some literature in this category but, trust me, I’ve already read quite a few of the classic books on WWII and I feel I have to qualify that I do not take any part of the war lightly. I just exhausted my ability to read about it before I even got to college.

However. Whe I came upon The Shadow King, I was immediately interested in the lesser known story of Mussolini’s campaign to colonize Ethiopia. I was further interested when I learned the story is told from the perspective of Hirut, a young maid in the household of Kidane, an officer in Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s army.

Finally a WWII story I hadn’t heard before. And, one that wasn’t just a, American wartime nostalgia piece (the library shelves are rife with those, as you may know). And one that was told from the perspective of black people in a colonized country. Plus, one told from the perspective of a “lowly” maid! That’s just my game.

The format of the novel is interesting. When I say “perspective,” what I really mean is that the narration is third-person omniscient and the focus switches from character to character. We get the thoughts and emotions of all the main characters, including Hirut, Kidane, and Kidane’s wife Aster, as well as other, more minor characters.

Interspersed with the regular chapters are interludes titled “Chorus.” They seem to serve exactly the purpose a “chorus” would serve in a pre-modern play or even a contemporary musical. The Chorus speaks about characters, about events, about situations, and speaks directly to the charachters at times. I quite liked that as a device.

There are also interludes to describe photos taken by Ettore Navarra, a Jewish photographer with an Italian military unit (also a character in the novel). And there are actual sections titled “Interlude” that focus on Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, who escapes into exile.

As Kidane leads his army toward war, “their” women follow. At their helm is Kidane’s wife Aster, who, hoping to take on the role of warrior herself, drills her women with the intent of fighting alongside the men. Kidane won’t allow this and relegates them to caring for the wounded and cooking the food.

Meanwhile, Kidane begins raping Hirut regularly, in addition to using her as his emotional confidant. These scenes are utterly heartbreaking. The hopelessness is palpable, even as the Chorus encourages Hirut to stand up to Kidane.

Kidane promises Hirut that, as payment, she’ll be released from his services after the war and will be given the hut where she lived with her parents before they died. Wife Aster, angry and domineering, blames Hirut for her husband’s infidelity (he’s a longtime adulterer in addition to being a rapist).

There is a rape scene midway through the novel in which Hirut has a small victory and begins to turn the tide against Kidane. It is hopeful and touching.

Meanwhile, Kidane’s army has suffered several losses and Kidane concocts a plan to turn the tide of the war. It involves promoting a peasant to pose as a “shadow king,” meaning he impersonates the exiled king and acts to motivate and inspire the people and control the narrative being presented to the Ethiopian people. Italy would have them believe their exiled emperor has run away and left them in the hands of the invaders.

Hirut becomes this shadow king’s attendant and she and Aster are posed as female guards in military uniform. This leads to a lot of action for both characters.

I’ll leave it there to avoid plot-related spoilers; though, of course, you can read about the history of the war online. I highly recommend this book. Mengiste is a lyrical writer with a knack for description. At times, I found some of the zoomed-in description a little tedious, but there’s no doubt that she’s talented in that regard. Here’s a good interview with her via BookPage.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday header

Literary Dog

Only cares when new snaccos are released.

This is an interesting topic for Top Ten Tuesday this week. As you may know from my previous posts, I don’t pay much attention to when the books I’m reading are published (unless they’re part of the Back to the Classics Challenge). I read old and new books every year.

But since this is the topic this week, I thought I might use it as a chance to research new books and educate myself about what’s coming down the pike.

Here are ten I want to investigate (thanks, internet!).

The Herd1. The Herd by Andrea Bartz

“When an exclusive New York women’s workspace is rocked by the mysterious disappearance of its enigmatic founder, two sisters must uncover the haunting truth before they lose their friendships, their careers–maybe even their lives.”

I discovered this one via Marie Claire, which said, “Anybody obsessed with the exclusivity of private women’s clubs, typically accessible only to the elite, will appreciate Andrea Bartz’s latest thriller, The Herd…”

I did not know that those clubs were a thing and am now prepared to become obsessed.

FastFashion2. How To Break Up With Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo

“Journalist Lauren Bravo loves clothes more than anything, but she’s called time on her affair with fast fashion in search of a slower, saner way of dressing. In this book, she’ll help you do the same.”

Fast fashion presents so many issues. I want to be reminded of how it is affecting the planet and economics and look forward to reading about some solutions. I find that sometimes books like this are long on problems and short on solutions, so I’m hoping this one delivers.

handiwork-by-sara-baume3. handiwork by Sara Baume

“A glimpse into the process of one Ireland’s best writers, handiwork is Baume’s non-fiction debut, written with the keen eye for nature and beauty as well as the extraordinary versatility Sara Baume’s fans have come to expect.”

Recently, I’ve ventured into a new-to-me medium, collage, and the creative process of visual artists has become more interesting to me. Looking forward to this one.

fatcowfatchance4. Fat Cow, Fat Chance by Jenni Murray

“At sixty-four, Jenni Murray’s weight had become a disability. She avoided the scales, she wore a uniform of baggy black clothes, refused to make connections between her weight and health issues and told herself that she was fat and happy. She was certainly fat. But the happy part was an Oscar-winning performance. In private she lived with a growing sense of fear and misery that it would probably kill her before she made it to seventy.”

I’m on my own health and weight-related journey and I love to hear from women of my size.

bloomwild5. Bloom Wild: a free-spirited guide to decorating with floral by Bari J. Ackerman

“Bloom Wild is for rebellious maximalists seeking savvy advice for decorating their homes with bold floral fabrics.”

Ahhh, love all these prints! And this one comes out in March, just in time for spring!

neverenough6. Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction by Judith Grisel

“From a renowned behavioral neuroscientist and recovered drug addict, an authoritative and accessible guide to understanding drug addiction: clearly explained brain science and vivid personal stories reveal how addiction happens, show why specific drugs–from opioids to alcohol to coke and more–are so hard to kick, and illuminate the path to recovery for addicts, loved ones, caregivers, and crafters of public policy.”

It’s depressing, but I’m always interested in the science of addiction and why addictions hold people in thrall and ruin lives.

SizingPeopleUp7. Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction by Robin Dreeke and Cameron Stauth

“After two decades as a behavior analyst in the FBI, Robin Dreeke knows a thing or two about sizing people up. He’s navigated complex situations that range from handling Russian spies to navigating the internal politics at the Bureau. Through that experience, he was forced to develop a knack for reading people–their intentions, their capabilities, their desires and their fears.”

This made me think of The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker, which I read in 2018 and loved.

godshot8. Godshot by Chelsea Bieker

“Chelsea Bieker’s gripping debut novel follows a teen girl embroiled in a cult, exploring how far she’ll go to break free of the abusive leadership.”

Radical Christian cult. I’m here for it.


howmuchofthesehillsisgold9. How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

“An electric debut novel set against the twilight of the American gold rush, two siblings are on the run in an unforgiving landscape–trying not just to survive but to find a home.”

Considering this one for the history reading challenge I’m thinking of doing this year.


deathinherhands10. Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

“From one of our most ceaselessly provocative literary talents, a novel of haunting metaphysical suspense about an elderly widow whose life is upturned when she finds a cryptic note on a walk in the woods that ultimately makes her question everything about her new home.”

Oh good, Ottessa Moshfegh has a new book coming out! I really enjoyed My Year of Rest and Relaxation and this one sounds like another in the same vein.


Some of these are very particular to my interests, but let me know what you think. Anything look good there?



2020 Classics Challenge

I can’t resist the Back to the Classics Challenge

Back to the Classics 2020Karen of Books and Chocolate is, once again, hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge for 2020.

I can’t resist it. Last year, I read 7 of 12 categories and this year I intend to aim for the full 12. Fingers crossed, people!

I’m loving some of the more unique categories this year. Here they are with some thoughts on what I might be reading for each.


My destiny in 2020?

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.

Is this the year I finally read Moby Dick? Also considering some Dickens or Far From the Madding Crowd.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1970. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago. 

Possibly 1984 or The Catcher in the Rye. Both missing from my literary repertoire.

3. Classic by a Woman Author.

I’m thinking George Eliot. Possibly Romola or The Mill on the Floss.



Shelf of classics and interlopers in our library


4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. You may read the book in your native language, or its original language (or a third language for all you polyglots). Modern translations are acceptable, as long as the book was originally published at least 50 years ago. Books in translation are acceptable in all other categories as well.

Two thoughts for this one: Les Mis or, a wild card, Flowers in the Mirror
by Ju-chen Li.

5. Classic by a Person of Color. Any classic work by a non-white author. 

I’m thinking Native Son or Passing.


How glorious is this cover?

6. A Genre Classic. Any classic novel that falls into a genre category — fantasy, science fiction, Western, romance, crime, horror, etc. 

This is such a fun category! I’m thinking of delving into some classic sci fi, like Babel-17. Also thought about Georgette Heyer in the romance category.

7. Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title. First name, last name or both. Examples include Ethan Frome; Emma; Madam Bovary; Anna Karenina; Daniel Deronda; David Copperfield, etc. 

So so many options here. Considering: Dr. Zhivago, Robinson Crusoe, Mary Barton, Jacob’s Room, Orlando, Lady Audley’s Secret.

8. Classic with a Place in the Title. Any classic with the proper name of a place (real or fictional) – a country, region, city, town, village, street, building, etc. Examples include Notre Dame de Paris; Mansfield Park; East of Eden; The Canterbury Tales; Death on the Nile; etc.

A Passage to India, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, The Belton Estate, Moment in Peking.


Nature? I like nature!

9. Classic with Nature in the Title. A classic with any element of nature in the title (not including animals). Examples include The Magic Mountain; The Grapes of Wrath; The Jungle; A High Wind in Jamaica; Gone With the Wind; Under the Volcano; etc.

Another fun one! I’m thinking about The Jungle.

10. Classic About a Family. This classic should have multiple members of the same family as principal characters, either from the same generation or multiple different generations. Examples include Sense and Sensibility; Wives and Daughters; The Brothers Karamazov; Fathers and Sons; The Good Earth; Howards End; and The Makioka Sisters.

Howard’s End would be fun. Also The Harp in the South, One Hundred Years of Solitude, I Capture the Castle, The House of the Seven Gables.

11. Abandoned Classic. Choose a classic that you started and just never got around to finishing, whether you didn’t like it at or just didn’t get around to it. Now is the time to give it another try.

The Grand Hotel and Iceland’s Bell are currently sitting on my TBR shelf and looking at me with disdain…



See? Judging me!

12. Classic Adaptation. Any classic that’s been adapted as a movie or TV series. If you like, you can watch the adaptation and include your thoughts in your book review. It’s not required but it’s always fun to compare.

Oo, this might be a better fit for Far From the Madding Crowd, which has a pretty recent adaptation.

So, the best laid plans, amiright? We’ll see how this goes. I’m always optimistic in January!

Fiction, What Shannon Read

Woman No. 17

36030995._SY475_.jpgI’m always impressed when an author can move successfully between two different voices and perspectives in the same novel. Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki is a good example of this. The story features two separate narrators. The first is Lady Daniels, fledgling writer and recently separated mother of two sons living in the privileged world of the Hollywood Hills. The other is Esther “S,” the young nanny Lady hires to look after her toddler, Devin.

The story alternates between the two perspectives, both voices distinctive. I though Lepucki did an especially good job of making S sound young, though, for her youth, she probably displayed remarkable self-awareness. On the other hand, Lady doesn’t so much. And that’s part of her character.

Throughout the book, the women form a friendship. Lady has her first book deal and is struggling to write a memoir about herself and her older son, Seth, an 18-year-old who is mute. Seth is the son of Lady and an ex-boyfriend, Marco, who left the two when Seth was a baby. Now, lady is married to rich husband Karl and they have two-year-old Devin together.

S is a recent college graduate embarking on an art project that involves imitating the personality of her unreliable mother. She dresses, speaks, and drinks like her mom did in her youth, presenting a facade to Lady, while intensifying her “project” (aka, a lot of drinking) at night in the pool cottage where she lives. In the meantime, S and Seth form a relationship.

Mothers are a major theme in the novel as both Lady and S have fraught relationships with their mothers. Lady gives us background on her mother, also unreliable, but firmly in the past. And S’s feelings about her mother are revealed through current interactions throughout the book.

Social media plays a key role too. Lady is new to Twitter and her tweets are at turns funny and sad, but always revealing. Seth is on Twitter as well and it’s one of the ways he communicates.

Twitter helps bring things to a head when both Lady and her son Seth separately track down Marco on the platform, ending in a climactic scene the novel builds to steadily over the course of the book.

There are lots of fun details that add to the personalities of the characters and bring the setting, the Hollywood Hills, to life. For example, there’s Lady’s husband’s twin sister, Kit Daniels, a hugely successful photographer who plays the role of villainess in Lady mind.

Kit is a pretentious artist with money who dresses in “edgy” L.A. fashion, and capitalizes the nouns in her emails. You get a sense that Lepucki is poking fun at the L.A. art scene with her. Kit is an important character and gives the book its title as she took the photo of Lady that is titled Woman No. 17. Likewise, S tells the story of a college boyfriend, another pretentious artist who breaks up with her because art is “all I care about.”

Overall, the tone and feel of the book reminded me of kind of a mash-up of some of those super popular dark thrillers (Girl on the Train, etc.) with the malaise and quirkiness of a book like Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. I enjoyed the atmosphere.

Have you read it? Tell me what you thought!


2019 Reading wrap-up


But first, lemme take a shelfie

2019 was the year of the reading slump.

I had more trouble finding books I wanted to read this year than I can remember ever having. I hate that. It means I’m losing time that can be spent on actual reading once said books are found. But given my policy of immediately abandoning books I’m not into, I guess thems the breaks. Sometimes you have to kiss a few (or many) frogs to find your prince.

I also went through about three weeks where I was adjusting to a new medication (a stimulant) and throughout that time, I made a ton of collage art but didn’t read a damn thing.

So, win some/lose some?

At the end of the year, I had a chance to increase my numbers. My Christmas break from work gave me a week and a half to stuff in a few more volumes before the end of the year. I live for this break. Unfortunately, I have been sick throughout the entire thing. The strep throat seems to have cleared up thanks to 10 days of penicillin, but my sinuses continue to torment me and I still can’t hear out of one ear. Sigh. 

Lots of reading time, in other words, since I haven’t had the energy for much else. And also House Hunters.

In any case, here are some fun reading wrap-up stats.

2019 Wrap-up and Geeky Stats

The Reading Race:
Each year, Ben and I have a friendly competition to see who can read the most books. The rules are pretty loose and we operate on the honor system. There’s no page count minimum or anything. This year, as in the past couple of years, Ben beat me, reading 57 books to my 53. I made it to the 50s, so I’m not too fussed. I’ve set myself a goal of 60 for 2020.

Total books read: 53
Fiction: 17
Nonfiction: 36
Female authors: 32
Male Authors: 21
Nonbinary/Trans authors: 0 (Ick, need to work on this.)
Non-white authors: 2 (Well, that is just freaking abysmal. Will work on reading more authors of color in the coming year. Please suggest some for me in the comments!)
E-books: 23
Audiobooks: 9 (Yep, I count these as reading.)
Re-reads: 2 (The Kids Will Be Fine, Running With Scissors)

Most Read Genres

Memoir/autobiography: 19
Classics: 7
True crime: 6 (not surprising)

Other Genres I Read

Historical fiction: 3
Translations (not necessarily a genre, but a type):
 3 (all classics: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Ibsen plays)
Graphic novels: 1 (Paper Girls: Volume One)
Biography: 2
YA: 1
Self-help: 3
Spirituality: 1
Nonfiction history: 3
Nonfiction British history: 1
Short stories: 1
Fantasy: 1
Mystery/thriller: 2
Social issues: 3 (I lump many things into this category. This year these books qualified: The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives, The Kids Will Be Fine, and This is Where You Belong.)

Favorite Books of 2019



Keep in mind that these are just books I read in 2019. I don’t make much of an effort to read new books unless they catch my interest. There are too many good books out there to limit myself to those published in the year in which I am reading. 🙂

The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier 
I truly love Daphne. Need to read another by her in the coming year.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
I’m always interested in hearing about how women make money, especially if they are low earners or don’t work in an office (like I do). I find I need exposure like this to better understand the many ways people get by. Reading books like this one are part of how I educate myself on economic and women’s issues.

Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House by Carline Morrow Long
We went on a New Orleans ghost tour in March and the Lalaurie house was part of it. This grisly account of Madame Lalaurie’s alleged crimes actually included quite a bit of well-researched New Orleans history. It also gave proper stage time to the stories of the enslaved people in the home.



Lalaurie Mansion looking creepy AF


Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist by Angela Steidele
I found this book on Anne Lister, 18th-century lesbian landowner and diarist, totally delightful! Talk about a woman who didn’t conform to gender roles. She was also pretty obviously out as a gay woman, which was dangerous at the time. On a related note, have you watched the Gentleman Jack series TV series via HBO? I tried it and was disappointed to find that I just couldn’t get into it. May give it another whirl in the future.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
LOVED this quirky memoir by the owner of the Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland. I’ve got his second book on ILL order at the library right now and can’t wait to get it.

Sally Wister’s Journal by Sally Wister
I picked up this slim book at the Museum of the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia over the summer. It’s the diary of a young woman during the first battles of the Revolutionary War. Short, but fascinating for this women’s history nerd! There is some drama due to the war, but this is quite focused on the day-to-day activities that must go on even in wartime. I love reading about how women who came before spent their time.


Shout out to my sister- and brother-in-law for the gift of watercraft this Christmas!

Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler
This book is the reason I wanted inflatable kayaks for Christmas. 😀

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Listen to the audiobook—you won’t regret it.

Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves by Marie Jenkins Schwartz
Schwartz is dedicated to telling the side of the story we don’t usually hear when reading about first ladies. This book looks at them from the perspective of the people they enslaved and tells the stories of those enslaved people. If you don’t know these stories, it is eye-opening. This is another I found at the Museum of the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia.

Calypso by David Sedaris
My favorite literary weirdo. I listened to this on my walks home and laughed out loud in parts. Sedaris is admittedly not for everyone, but I am definitely the target market for him…possibly because I am also weird. 😉

BingeworthyBritishTelevisionIn addition to the above, I thoroughly enjoyed Bingeworthy British Television by one of my favorite book bloggers and fellow Anglophile Sarah Cords (and her coauthor, of course, Jackie Bailey). Highly recommend this one if you are interested in British television. It is an excellent encyclopedic review of all that’s available, and I love thumbing through it for recommendations.


Other Thoughts

Thought One:
I always say that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and yet, I only read three books that fit this category: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton, and The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier.

Thought Two: I didn’t read a single volume of poetry. I barely wrote any either. Reading and writing poetry used to be a major part of my life and I have really abandoned it in the past several years. Would like to remedy this.

Thought Three: In the past, say, five years or so, my preferences have really skewed toward nonfiction, whereas fiction reined in the past. I wonder what that’s about…

Thought Four: I used to be all about YA and children’s books. In fact, several years ago I began the project of reading every single Newbery Medal and Honor book. I think I read around 20 or so, but my interest flagged. I wonder if that’s something I should revive.


Bookshelf proof that I once cared about poetry…

2020 Reading Goals

  • Read 60 books (finally win the Reading Race? ;))
  • Read more historical fiction
  • Intentionally read diverse books (especially authors of color and trans/nonbinary authors)
  • Read some frikken poetry
  • Participate in 2020 classics challenge? If there isn’t one this year, I’m thinking of just setting out to conquer another doorstop. Les Mis comes to mind.

Lots to look forward to. How about you? Would love to hear your goals for 2020.

Happy New Year!


2019 Classics Challenge, What Shannon Read

Slammin’ the Classics (A 2019 Wrap-up Post)

BTCC Berlin BooksTime to report in on my 2019 classics challenge! As you may know, I started 2018 with grand intentions, but ended up reading about 6 of 12 classics.

And I guess I’m going for incremental improvement because in 2019, I completed seven of Karen’s 12 categories (visit her initial post for a breakdown.)

Oh what a long, strange trip it’s been…

Here are the books I completed for each category of the challenge with links to my reviews.

2. 20th Century Classic: Theater by W. Somerset Maugham
3. Classic by a Woman Author: The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier 
4. Classic in Translation: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
5. Classic Comic Novel: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
6. Classic Tragic Novel: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter

Parting Thoughts

I like to make plans. But I don’t like to follow them. I will spend hours concocting all sorts of plans that sound great (heyyy every diet I’ve ever started), but inevitably, the execution is where I falter. I lack follow-through. So for me to say “I want to read more classics,” then sign up for a classics challenge is normal, something I would do in a heartbeat. Actually reading those classics then becomes a struggle against my own rebellious heart.

For this reason, I’m calling seven out of 12 a win. Up until 2018, I probably read about three classics a year, so anything more than that is broadening my reading horizons.

This year, I conquered two big ones on my TBR list: Anna Karenine and Madame Bovary. Also, I read authors I wouldn’t otherwise have read. That’s where the real sense of pleasure is found—in discovery. I most enjoyed new-to-me authors Barbara Pym, Henrik Ibsen, and W. Somerset Maugham.

So, seven classics and an overall feeling of victory going into 2020. I don’t see an announcement from Karen about whether she’ll be hosting a 2020 classics challenge, but if she does, I’m in!